Pairing: Akihiko Sanada / Minato Arisato (Main Character)
Spoilers: Entire game, no 'The Answer' but for the revelation of the coma (in date form).
Length: Approx 30k / 5 chapters / Complete, posted once every few days.
Warnings: Heavy language, some rating-pushing smuttish moments later, massive spoilers, confusing event jumping for anyone unfamiliar with the game.
A/N: A totally random idea came to me. When you start a New Game+, you retain your levels, your inventory, and the items that you get from maxed Social Links. This stands to reason that the memory would remain for the MC as well. What if gameplay wasn't linear…? ;) Just an exploration of what a New Game+ could really mean. Well, it was meant to be. Now it is an excuse for romance. :-P
Edit as of 7/18/10: Adding a few lines/scenes so the beginning isn't so full of gaps/to make Minato's beginnings less rushed. Adding short descriptors to some dates that build off established scenes for those who haven't played in a while (realized they were necessary as I tried to reread my own work and forgot what many events were). May finally get to rewrite the ending I stupidly deleted in a fit of pique.
Disclaimer: Persona is not mine. However, there are many lines in this that were taken directly from in-game. It lends realism… :-P -guffaw- In any case, if anyone finds it suspect, I will happily label every line I used to blend the game with this fic and keep the New Game+ feel.
"Imagine if you could control the flow of time… eliminate unwanted events before they occur." - Takeharu Kirijo
Minato bit back the urge to groan, the blissful feeling of oblivion fading to a memory. Where was he? Last he remembered, Aigis's voice had drifted softly down to him, her fingers - surprisingly gentle for all that they were mechanical - carding through his hair. He had felt so tired, had felt tired for weeks leading up to that day. Had he fallen asleep, then? Had Aigis or one of the others moved him as he tried to overcome the exaggerated fatigue that had weighed him down?
"Hey there. It's been a while, hasn't it?"
That voice was familiar. But how was it possible? Minato forced his eyes open, pleased that there was no bright light that would force him to shield his eyes. It was dark, but he felt no discomfort from the way he seemed to be floating in blackness. Instead, he turned his eyes to the familiar boy who stood calmly with a dreamy smile over his lips.
"You remember me, then! I'm so glad. It feels like it has been forever since we last spoke. But really… it's been no time at all, has it?"
Minato was confused, but his face remained carefully blank. Hadn't Pharos - Ryoji, Thanatos, Nyx's Avatar, whatever name he went by - been vanquished when he'd sealed Nyx? He had a sinking sensation low in his stomach, a vague sense of illness washing over him. Had something gone wrong? Would the Dark Hour be returning once more?
His silence didn't seem to perturb Pharos, who just rocked back on his heels with that same enigmatic smile. "Do you know where you are?"
Minato shook his head, scarcely able to breath around the lump in his throat. He would be fine with almost any oddity by now after having lived through almost a year of the Dark Hour, but he couldn't abide by the world being sent into peril once more. He'd worked so hard to make sure everything was right…
"You died, you know."
That halted his rapid thoughts, leaving him staring with wide eyes at Pharos. "Dead?"
Pharos nodded, smile fading slightly. "Yes. You used all your strength fighting Nyx, and you just faded away. Your friends were very sad. I was sad, even though I am hardly alive."
"Pharos… can you tell me what is going on?"
The boy dropped down beside him, hands on his knees and his face lighting into a more expressive smile. "You're special. I'm sure you already know that, but you're even more special than you could ever imagine. And because of that…" Pharos spread his arms and grinned, and Minato found an answering smile twitching at the corners of his lips. "Because of that, you are being given a second chance."
"Chance to do what?" Minato's head was spinning, and he pushed himself up onto his elbows.
"To fix your mistakes. To be with those you love. To make things right. You'll go back with all the knowledge you gained in the last year, all your strength and even your weaponry. You will be a force to be reckoned with, and you can do what most people only ever dream of - change the future."
Minato sat up fully, peering into Pharos's bright eyes and trying to control the rapid staccato of his heart, afraid it would burst from his chest. He wished to ask a million questions, to rejoice at the chance to wipe away the mistakes - to prevent Nyx's coming, to save the lives of those lost. To spare his friends pain. But he had never been one for many words, so he could only hope Pharos understood what he asked as he stared, hands shaking in his lap. "How?"
"By the divinity of the Universe."
He wanted to ask more, wanted to know how this could be happening, but suddenly Pharos was Ryoji, standing over him with a serene smile. "Let's go, Minato." And then the light came, and Minato slipped away.
4/6/09 ~ Game start.
There was no slow wakening this time, no fade into awareness. It was jarring to one moment be floating in nothingness and the next moment waking to music blasting in his ears, fingers curled around the cold metal of a pole. Minato jerked, eyes wide as he looked at the other occupants of the car. It was nearly empty, only a few lightly dozing people anywhere in sight. Minato looked down to his sleeve and pushed it back to reveal his watch. As the train's brakes sent a wail reverberating down the tunnel, his watch flicked to 11:58pm.
Dark Hour was near.
He remembered his first encounter with the Dark Hour. He'd stepped out of the train and frozen as coffins replaced the people around him, fear lancing painfully up his spine. It had been the single most terrifying moment of his life up to that moment. But he also remembered the apathy that had settled over him, the way he had paced through the pools of blood without heed, indifference betrayed only by the tremble of his clenched fists.
This time he was ready for it. He stepped from the train and his music died, and he breathed in as the sickly glow of Tartarus's moon shone down on him. Minato paused for a moment to stare up at that moon, and he realized his fists had clenched just like they had all those months ago. He loosened them slowly, feeling the tension leave him. He had lived this before and he knew what to expect. And there was nothing wandering the streets that he couldn't take care of with his fists. He wondered where his sword was; hadn't Pharos said his equipment would come along, too?
The trek to the dorms was so familiar that he walked it on auto-pilot, for the first time considering the consequences of this trip back in time. His elation had suffocated the possible consequences, but now he took the time to think it over. What effects would changing the world have? Could he really prevent Nyx from coming? The twelve Full Moon Shadows couldn't be ignored…
He would have to die again. The thought wasn't nearly as disturbing as it should have been, and Minato shrugged a shoulder as the dorm came into sight. He could save the lives of Shinji and Chidori, secure happiness for those he cared about. He could strengthen the bonds he hadn't had the time to the first time around, and he could ensure that the world without him would be a bright place. Was there really anything else that mattered after that?
As he pushed open the door to what had been his home and met with the awkward introductions with his close friends, Minato carefully suppressed a grin. Everything would be alright - no matter what he had to do to make it so.
4/9/09 ~ The attack on the dorms.
"Hurry! Downstairs! We'll leave through the back door!"
It hadn't been as easy as he'd thought it would be. He'd always been near-silent, so why should it be so hard to pretend to be oblivious? Meeting with Ikutsuki had been a nightmare on his self control, and it had taken every last bit of his hard-won charm and strength to not deck the man flat in his smirking mouth. And here he was again, attempting to remain entirely clueless while Yukari panicked.
Why was he so worried about people knowing? What was the worst thing they could do, suspect he was odd? Shun him? It wasn't like the idea of time-travel would be the first conclusion, if it was ever even a tiny thought. These people were used to odd occurrences, surely it wouldn't harm anyone if he didn't follow the usual agenda. He might not be able to prevent the inevitable… but that wasn't any reason to follow the script, was it?
Before he'd even known he'd made up his mind, Minato had seized Yukari's wrist and was pulling her towards the stairs. She yelped at his grip, struggling against him and demanding he turn around. She was no match for him, though. Months of fighting had developed his strength too far for her to have a chance. Minato felt vaguely dizzy as he ran up the curving stairs, breaking into a run that had Yukari stumbling behind him, panting with the effort of keeping herself upright.
"T-the roof? Minato-kun, we have to get out of here. That isn't-" she cut herself off as her transceiver rang, and he let her yank her arm from his grip. "Senpai? Wh-what? I see, umm, right!"
It didn't take much effort to snatch the Evoker from Yukai's belt, and he ignored her shout as he ripped open the door to the roof. His body thrummed with well-missed adrenaline, finger curling around the gun's familiar hilt. While no time at all had passed for him since that afternoon with Aigis, the month between that afternoon and the final battle had seemed like a lifetime. The normalcy had been… painful.
Yukari shrieked as Shadows clawed their way over the roof's low wall, the largest of them lumbering on its many arms, and Minato couldn't hold down a smirk as he put the Evoker to his head. "Persona."
As Yukari left the hospital room with a suspicious glance back to the bed, Minato sighed. Right, so maybe it had been a bit preemptive to assume that his display of courage would not have consequences. Yukari, rather than thanking him profusely as she had the first time around, had attempted to wheedle out of him how he had been in such control. He still wasn't worried, but it had stung a bit to see the narrowed look on Yukari's face when it wasn't pointed towards one of Junpei's faux-innocent grins.
He hated feeling his groggy. He hated hospital stays and several-day bouts of unconsciousness. He had had enough of them to be sure of his opinion, after all. He hadn't thought he'd have to do this a second time since summoning Persona was nothing new to him, but it seemed that Thanatos's sudden and violent appearance had sapped him of his energy. So, just as the first time around, he was stuck laying in a hospital bed waiting to be checked out. Minato pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes; perhaps it was simply that some events had to play out the same?
He dropped his hands as the door opened, and Minato's eyebrows rose. In the doorway stood Mitsuru and Akihiko, expressions tense as they came to stand near his bed. He didn't recall a visit from these two; in fact, he hadn't even formally met Akihiko until the next evening when (that bastard) Ikutsuki called a meeting. He tensed a bit at the glare Mitsuru was giving him, pushing away thoughts of her shy smile from months gone by.
"Arisato. This is Akihiko Sanada, one of the senior SEES members and your senpai."
Minato nodded slightly to Akihiko, lowering his eyes to his hands. "As nice as this visit is…"
Mitsuru sighed. "You're right; this isn't a social call. We need questions answered, Arisato. Your behavior the other night…" she trailed off with an uncomfortable frown.
"What Mitsuru means is that you're suspicious. We might have been able to look past being a person who can wield more than one Persona, or even someone who could take control like you did. But you actually preemptively took Takeba's Evoker and proceeded to summon your Persona without prompting. You didn't even hesitate!" Akihiko ended with a deep frown. Minato noted to himself that the expression didn't suit the older boy.
With an annoyed glance at Akihiko, Mitsuru cut back in. "It is more than rare for a person not to hesitate. The Evoker resembles a gun too closely, and the idea of pulling a gun's trigger as it is pressed to your temple isn't a comfortable sensation. Yet you still managed to do exactly that, even when there was no feasible way you should have known of the Evoker's properties."
Minato's lips tightened, and he considered his options. The truth was out for obvious reasons, but he didn't want to outright lie to these people. They had been his friends, his comrades… even if they didn't hold the same memories he did, he would 't betray the trust they once had placed in him. Mitsuru especially. He and Akihiko had never been especially close, and though he vastly respected the upperclassmen, he'd just never spent time with him like he had with Mitsuru, Junpei, and Yukari.
Minato didn't look up. His silence was taken for what it was, and Akihiko growled. "Fine, if that is the way you want to play it."
"Calm down, Akihiko," Mitsuru chided, snorting under her breath. "I don't see any danger in him. Keep your secrets, Arisato. But if you want the trust of our group, you will have to be forthcoming at some point. Now, we have to get back to the dorm. There will be a meeting tomorrow night on the fourth floor to discuss the future. Please attend."
Minato nodded, and glanced up in time to watch Akihiko rub the shoulder of his injured arm and grimace before following Mitsuru from the room. Silver eyes flicked back with a challenge lighting them, and Minato had no problem meeting that look with his own. SEES wouldn't know what hit them once he got out of there.
4/18/09 ~ Explanation of SEES and the Dark Hour.
"Oh, I almost forgot. About your room assignment... why don't you just stay here, in your current room? I don't know what the holdup is, but I guess it worked out in the end," Ikutsuki said with a chuckle.
Minato gritted his teeth and nodded, trying not to say anything that was on his mind as Yukari and Mitsuru bid Ikutsuki goodnight and bowed. He hated seeing the blind trust the SEES members put in this man... but what could he do about it? He was a veritable stranger to these people, and worse yet... he was a suspicious stranger. He hadn't missed the looks out of the corner of his teammates' eyes he'd been getting throughout the meeting, and he tried not to let them affect his mental state more than they had to. He would just have to be more careful from now on.
As he slipped from the room, he heard Akihiko's low voice discussing a new recruit with Ikutsuki. Junpei. For all that the boy drove him half mad, he was undoubtedly one of his closest friends. And now... he was hardly an acquaintance to him. At least so far as Junpei was concerned. Minato took the stairs down to his floor of the dorm two at a time, waving his hand absently at Yukari's hesitant 'good night'. None of this was as easy as he'd expected. SEES had become something like a dysfunctional, violent family to them... but now only he carried those memories.
He closed the door to his dorm room behind him and unbuttoned his pants, stepping out of them as they hit the floor. 11:53. He should sleep soon. His sheets were cool and familiar against his skin, his room dark, but he could do little but stare at the ceiling. The first full moon wasn't until ninth of May, so until then... perhaps he could spend that time reaquainting himself with the people he loved. It wasn't like they were gone. They were here or would be there soon, all around him.
He reminded himself of how lucky he was to have a second chance at all, closing his eyes and burrowing into his pillow.
As he drifted to sleep, though, he realized that Pharos hadn't come to him once this time around.
Minato was surprised by how freeing it was to have his Compendium back. Elizabeth smiled as he rifled through it, choosing a few of the Personas he was most comfortable with to keep within him. The power of them rushed through him like Odin's lightning, electric and awe-inspiring. He had missed this. He had missed not being afraid of what laid before him, but with his familiar Personas back in his subconscious, he felt nearly invincible.
"With an ordinary summoner, Personas are a direct reflection on their mindscape," Igor mused from behind him, tapping a gnarled finger against his lips. "But you, my boy... you are something magnificent. Your ability to summon so many aspects shows both your power and your duality. But what will you bring to this world, hmm? Will you destroy us, or will you lead us to a new age?"
Minato stared at the timeless man, eyes narrowed. "You know of Nyx, then."
"We do, indeed. Though we do not hold the memories of another timeline as you do, we are still aware of far more than the mortal mind can ever hope to. Nyx will come... and as you know, you will have a choice to make."
"Do you know, then, why I was given this second chance?" Minato asked, leaning forward in his seat and staring hard at Igor.
Igor smiled, a slightly disturbing expression. "What do you know of your initial Persona Orpheus?"
"Not much. I honestly moved past using him rather quickly."
"That is to be expected," said Igor, steepling his hands. "But you must understand him to understand yourself, as he truly is your primary Persona. Orpheus, in legend, was known as the Master of Strings, who played his god-given lute with such beauty that even the rocks and flowers felt they needed to dance to his tunes. As with Orpheus, you too are a master of strings... the strings of fate. You bind people to you for strength and it is natural that they follow you, they canot help but dance along behind you. And only you may pluck these strings. That is why you are able to have this chance. With Orpheus as your base and with Thanatos, the personification of peaceful death, tied so strongly to you as well, the Divinities were able to give you this."
Minato didn't particularly like the implications. "Then those close to me have no choice."
"What?" Igor blinked. "Heavens, no. The lute of Orpheus did not control those around him, it inspired them. And such do you. But I ask again... what will you bring to this world with your power?"
Minato frowned and stood, nodding down to Igor silently. As he left, he heard Elizabeth laugh tonelessly. "Such a flair for dramatics, Master."
The weeks seemed to fly by and slowly the suspicious looks faded from his companions' eyes. Even as Minato grew more tense as the second Full Moon approached, the rest of the group relaxed. The end of the Dark Hour was coming closer, to them… whereas Minato knew the damning truth.
Part of him sorely wished they could just leave the larger Shadows alone. Really, what were they in comparison to Nyx and the coming of the Fall? But that would doom the members of SEES, his friends, to years of the Dark Hour and fighting Shadows, and the rest of the oblivious world to the slowly creeping Apathy that would engulf them. He couldn't do that to them, even if it meant sacrificing his life once more to seal Nyx away.
He missed Aigis. It was late May, so it was still a bit over a month still until they found her on that dock, so Minato squashed his impatience. She had probably been his closest companion, not counting his short romances with Mitsuru and Yukari. They were good women. But Aigis had cared for him in the most undemanding way possible, and she was probably the only person who was totally content with his usual taciturnity. Even when she had deigned to speak, she had never required response from him.
Here, everyone seemed to need something from him. Yukari needed someone to agree with her as she ranted about whatever was on her mind, Junpei needed someone to laugh at his jokes. Mitsuru needed a dedicated person who could lead the team in Tartarus and still keep up his academic life. And Akihiko… well, perhaps he didn't need much from him, either. But he was also the only one who had yet to open up to him, to trust him.
Perhaps it was manipulation that he had gotten past everyone else's shells. He'd known them well, after all, and it didn't take a genius to be able to pick and choose the right words to say in a given situation with people he knew so well. Perhaps that was why he had yet to make Akihiko comfortable with him. He hardly knew the older boy at all, beyond his battle skills and his motivations.
An exaggerated sigh heralded the arrival of Junpei, who sprawled unceremoniously across the adjacent couch. "Man, I am so ticked. Mitsuru-senpai won't get off my ass about my midterm grades. Like I care about that!"
Minato smirked, but hid it behind his hand. "Oh? Maybe that is the biggest problem."
"C'mon, you're telling me you care about studying? I never see you crack open a book. How in the hell did you still manage to ace the exams? Top of the mother fuc-"
"Don't be so jealous, Stupei. Just because Minato has a brain and you don't is no reason to whine."
"You cut me deep, Yuka-tan. Real deep."
The girl rolled her eyes as she sat in one of the end chairs, crossing her legs. "So, Minato, how did you manage to get top of the class? Mitsuru-senpai was really impressed."
Minato shrugged. "I just went with what felt right."
"Oh, jeez, a natural-born genius? You're shitting me." Junpei's face was disbelieving. "I swear, some guys get all the luck…"
Scoffing and ignoring Junpei's continued spluttering, Yukari smiled. "The full moon is in a just over a week, you know. Do you think you're ready, Minato?"
He raised an eyebrow at her and she blushed, mumbling under her breath. Junpei and Yukari had had a close encounter of the Monad kind within their first week in Tartarus, and had held their breaths as Minato had decimated his opponents. It had been a great experience for them, though, giving them confidence and strength where it mattered. However, it had made for even more discomfort around him, his inexplicable strength making them wary.
He was lucky in the two battles he had taken them to in Monad that not a single Shadow had actually had a chance to attack and show just how strong they were. There was no way he could have explained that. He was also thankful that for all Mitsuru's talents, she could only gauge on relative strength rather than on level of prowess. It was only knowing that that he had risked taking his friends into that dangerous hell, trying to instill them with enough experience to ensure their lives continued.
He'd been putting off training for a week now, wary to train Akihiko. The tension between them made everyone uncomfortable, even though they never even glared in one another's direction. They even spoke when necessary, so Minato was hard-pressed to explain the tense atmosphere when they were together. But he was nearly sure that it really came down to his inability to truly connect with the older boy. He would have to work on that, attempt to do things the way everyone else did... without spiritual voices or past experience guiding their words. An Akihiko needed to be trained, he knew, preferably before they went to retrieve Fuuka. Her Persona's power levels had always seemed closely linked with his own, so she would be a logistical force to be reckoned with. There would be no hiding his strength with her around, and he was already trying to come up with excuses. The best he could think of was to get everyone else as highly powered as he could so there wasn't such a shocking difference.
"So, man, wanna go to Tartarus tonight?"
Minato shrugged. "Sure. Let's go tell Mitsuru."
6/8/09 ~ Second Full Moon
"So…" Junpei said in an attempt to break the silence as he, Minato, and Akihiko moved through the silent halls to the gym, leaving Yukari behind with Mitsuru in the school's entryway. "What d'you guys think the chances are that those two are lesbians?"
Akihiko promptly began choking on nothing at all, one hand pressed right beneath his throat.
Minato rolled his eyes. There were two distinct answers to that question, and he toiled for a moment over which to choose. In the end he went with a simple, "Slim to none, you damned pervert," and tried to ignore the grateful look Akihiko gave him.
"Fine, fine, maybe not Mitsuru-senpai… she's kinda nunnish anyway, for all her babaliciousness. But Yuka-tan? Hoo-boy, I could see it. And with the way she was stuttering when she followed Senpai… well…"
Minato shook his head and bit back a chuckle, not wanting to encourage Junpei any further. His eyes rose and met with silver, sharing a smirk between them. Somehow it made Minato's heart beat faster; he put it down to finally working past whatever block was holding back a friendship between Akihiko and himself.
"Welp, here we are."
The long shadows thrown by the as-of-yet normal full moon made the gym rather spooky, and had Minato not had the months of Dark Hours to strengthen his resolve, he might have been (albeit unwillingly) jumpy. As it was, he knew exactly what to expect in fifteen minutes when the Dark Hour hit.
In front of him, Junpei shuddered. "Man, does anyone else have a bad feeling?"
"Calm down. This will be like any other mission, we will just have a different starting point. We'll be in Tartartus, find the Yamagishi girl, and then leave the way we always do." Akihiko's shoulder brushed Minato's as he passed, pushing the gym's door open more widely.
"It will be fine, Junpei."
The boy sighed heavily, tugging his hat down lower over his eyes. "For Fuuka, huh? Lead on, Oh Fearless One."
Minato tried not to grimace. He didn't want to go through weeks of Junpei's jealousy again. But then, he didn't want to see his friend break into pieces over Chidori again, either… but those experiences had helped Junpei grow. Minato sighed, shoving a hand through his hair. This time travel business wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
He looked up to see Akihiko's silver eyes regarding him. "Something wrong?"
"No… just thinking."
"Hm." It wasn't a staring match so much as a gaze held for uncomfortably long, and Minato was the first to break it. He wished he understood Akihiko. He had never been one of the people his psyche had drawn him to for Persona-strengthening reasons, and Minato found that he was rather lost without that whispering voice leading him and telling him when he's obviously done something right.
However, for all his silence, Minato was exceptionally stubborn… and challenges had always intrigued him. He wanted to get to know the people he hadn't had a chance to the last time around, even if he didn't have some supernatural force guiding him. This was the reality of making friends, something Minato couldn't recall ever really having.
His watch trilled, and he shoved away his anticipation. "One minute."
His teammates nodded, and Minato watched the seconds tick by. An idea struck as his watch showed 11:59:49, and he dashed forward, grabbing Junpei by the wrist and twisting to grasp Akihiko's forearm. Any complaints or questions that might have been voiced were cut off as the ground shook, walls shifting around them. And then the pain began, and everything fell to white.
A loud groan near his ear brought Minato into wakefulness, and he shoved at Junpei's heavy shoulder where it was jammed into his ribs. The distinctive pattern of Arda's ceiling met his eyes, partially obscured by the silver-haired head that leaned over him. Akihiko put out his hand as he noticed Minato was awake, offering him a quick way up.
It took a bit of work to untangle his legs from Junpei's, the other boy beginning to curse as consciousness found him. Minato let Akihiko's leverage pull him up, breathing in deeply to keep away the lights from the edge of his vision.
"How did you know?"
Minato blinked at the abrupt question, looking down at the way Akihiko's grip had tightened on his hand. "Know what?"
"I felt like my body was being torn into a dozen directions; I'm nearly sure we would have been separated if you hadn't grabbed us. How did you know?"
He quelled the urge to look away guiltily. "I just had a feeling."
"Our Almighty Leader has good instincts, huh?" Junpei snipped, finally standing upright and straightening his hat. "Chill out, Senpai. It's not like he knows the future or some shit."
Irrationally, Minato swore his heart stopped beating, and though he couldn't be sure, the look Akihiko gave him in that instant made him wonder if his flash of panic had shown on his face.
7/7/09 ~ Third Full Moon
In the month since they had rescued Fuuka from Tartarus, Minato found his paranoia to be unfounded. Akihiko, if anything, had loosened up considerably towards him, never mentioning that night.
The moon was full once more that night, and the group was gathering up their supplies. Minato ignored the tense fluttering in his gut, trying to push away the whispers of this being just another set of Full Moon Shadows to defeat, drawing them ever closer to Nyx. He shifted through the large box of items he kept at the foot of his bed, pulling out some of the more useful ones. He didn't think he'd need any mirrors or magic gems tonight. He did stow a copious number of medicines, though, as well as some Chewing Souls… just in case. There was nothing worse than being unable to cast a needed spell.
He wished he better remembered the Shadows to come. But between the number of Shadows in the months after and the fog from the spell put over them…
He didn't know whether to grimace or blush. This full moon had certainly been one of the more… interesting ones. But he didn't see why it would be a problem this time around. He knew what was coming, and it wasn't like Yukari even left the bathroom before the spell was broken. No problem, right?
They set out not long after, Fuuka's senses leading them to the seedy love hotel on Shirakawa Boulevard. He'd chosen Junpei and Akihiko to accompany him and Yukari, though he couldn't for the life if him decide why he'd been so reluctant to include Mitsuru. Perhaps it had been the look on her and Akihiko's faces when they'd returned…
"I sense a powerful Shadow on the third floor! Please head there immediately!"
He jerked his head towards the stairs, feeling his companions' anticipation. There were no Shadows yet, but their every movement was hesitant and expecting attack. He didn't pause to check the doors they passed, trying to quell the obvious unease of his teammates by getting the worst over with quickly.
The third floor came quickly, and something dreadful curled around Minato's insides. He glanced at Yukari's tense frown, smiling slightly in an attempt to calm her. She attempted to give the same in return, but it came out stiff and crooked. He moved to Junpei's narrowed eyes as he scanned the motel walls, jaw set. He didn't even look Minato's way. Akihiko was last, eyes darting and fists clenched. His boxing gloves would have made such an observation difficult, but the strain of the vinyl gave him away.
Minato searched his psyche, brushing the electric power of Odin and grasping it. He would end this battle quickly, if only to banish the trepidation. Better to get things over with quickly.
They burst through the door, and the large form of the Hierophant Shadow taking up a large portion of the room. Minato hardly paused as his teammates took their position, Evoker pressed to his temple. "Odin!"
Thunder Reign crashed into the Shadow, the electricity in the air making the hair on the back of Minato's neck stand on end. He ignored the flabbergasted looks from his group, turning to the large mirror on the wall even before the Hierophant had dissolved entirely.
"What are you doing?"
Minato's eyes widened as he jumped in surprise, fingers impacting with the glass. He had no time to respond as the mirror flashed and sent them into oblivion.
~Embrace your desire…~
The warmth of a tongue running up his neck, the sting of teeth against his pulse. Minato gasped, tangling his fingers in soft hair and arching towards the mouth that gave him such pleasure. This was the most amazing thing he had ever felt in his life, the closeness of another body, his heart beating so hard that it echoed to be the only thing he could hear.
~I am the voice of your inner self... Enjoy the moment... That which cannot be felt is merely a dream... The present is all we have.~
Fingers danced along his ribs. He could hardly breathe for all the sensation that coursed through him, and his free hand gripped the sheet of the bed as his shirt was pushed up, lips moving to follow the path that fingers already had. A warm mouth ran teasingly up from his navel, hot breath making him shudder. It was good… so good. He wanted to touch the other, wanted to feel every inch. His fingertips tingled as he begged for more in his mind, willing the sensation to stretch to infinity.
~The future is but a fantasy, memory a fabrication... Let your desire free you from your shackles... Such is my wish…~
Yes, yes… If he could stay like this forever, chanting his partner's name in a litany… what else mattered? He ran his fingers through that hair again, pulling until eyes met his own. Desire reflected plainly, and Minato groaned as he tugged his partner into a harsh kiss, biting a lower lip so he could deepen it further.
~Pleasure is what you truly want. You stand before the doorway to bliss. You cannot deny you instincts... Embrace your desire…~
Yes… what he truly wanted… there was no need for anything else. He ran his hands down his partner's sides, slipping his fingers beneath waistband of their pants to touch the heated skin below. The other's breathing hitched in his ear, a shiver forcibly running through them both. Minato's fingers traced hips, sliding down slowly until his thumbs brushed coarse hair. The anticipation thrummed through his veins, and even the adrenaline from fighting Shadows didn't compare…
Minato shook his head, fingers freezing in place.
~Why do you resist...? Do not avert your eyes from the truth…~
He stared up into silver eyes, shocked into reality at roughly the same time that they lost their glazed look. He stared at Akihiko, trembling suddenly from something far less pleasurable than only moments ago.
Minato jerked and it seemed to bring Akihiko into awareness, as the boy leapt off of him with far more grace than the situation should have granted him. His face nearly matched his red sweater, and his jaw was dropped and moving soundlessly. Minato wondered if he looked the same. He opened his mouth to say something… apologize, rant, beg for a less foggy rendition, he didn't know… but his thoughts were broken by light crackle that preceded Fuuka contacting them.
"Oh, I can finally reach you! Can you two hear me?" Fuuka's frantic voice came in; both he and Akihiko jumped.
The blood stayed tinting Akihiko's face, and the pleading look in his eyes made Minato clear his throat. "We're fine."
"I'm sorry I couldn't contact you sooner... The Shadow was interfering with your thoughts... And you all got separated... The enemy is still in the same room. Please regroup and hurry there. ...Did you hear that, Akihiko-senpai?"
The silver-hair boy swallowed, and Minato was mortified to find himself watching the bob of his Adam's apple. "Y-Yes, Fuuka."
"Huh? Are you okay, Senpai?"
Fuuka's voice was hesitant, but she seemed smart enough to move on. "Well, Minato-kun, the others are two floors below you. If you wait for just a few minutes, they should meet up with you…"
"That's fine, Fuuka."
The connection died. The silence was stifling as they both attempted to avoid one another's eyes. He walked to the door and felt Akihiko following him, needing to get out of the suddenly too-hot room. A glance back to the rumpled covers of the heart shaped bed made his heart rise to his throat, and Minato tore his eyes away.
It took almost five minutes for Yukari and Junpei to arrive, and every minute was like torture. By the handprint across Junpei's tan cheek, Minato figured he'd gotten the same treatment he himself had the first time around.
"You guys alright?"
Yukari's face turned a predictable pink, and Minato sighed to himself as he realized that it didn't even affect him. Blue eyes slanted toward Akihiko, who was standing with pursed lips and an uncomfortable expression.
"We're fine," Junpei said easily, smirking and stretching his arms over his head. "What about you guys?"
Still looking at Akihiko, Minato watched as the boy turned a distinct red and his eyes flicked to meet Minato's. "Wh-what do you mean? Of course we're fine!"
A drawn-out, definitely awkward pause later and the group was moving, though Yukari and Junpei's eyes kept darting to look at either himself or Akihiko.